The University of Arizona celebrated a Day of Remembrance in March to recognize and mourn the many lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robert C. Robbins, M.D., president of the University of Arizona, who has led the campus community through more than two years of challenging times, shared his comments at the event. Robbins has often been called upon for his experience as a medical professional during the pandemic. He shared his experience with Arizona Alumni Magazine and concluded by providing sage advice for recent graduates.
People are certainly ready to move on, and while I look forward with optimism, it’s important to reflect upon how far we’ve come as a community and to recognize lives lost.
I’ve been incredibly grateful and impressed by the common spirit of our faculty, staff and students coming together. We talked early on that we’re all in this together, and truly, we came together internally as a university community.
I’m also really proud of how we reached out beyond the boundaries of the university into the community. The incredible effort of standing up a vaccination pod and making vaccines available to so many people in Southern Arizona so quickly was really impressive to me.
Although I knew a lot about the health sciences, I got an up-close, on-the-frontline experience that I don’t think I would have experienced had it not been for the pandemic. I really rolled up my sleeves and every day was on a call with our public health people — our top immunologist, virologist, epidemiologist.
And they are absolutely world class. They’ve been on the world stage and on the cutting edge looking at these new variants, genotyping them. Using wastewater epidemiology to help mitigate risks and protect our university community. And certainly Dr. Richard Carmona, who led our COVID-19 reentry taskforce, is a treasure to have at this university.
[Carmona was the 17th surgeon general of the United States, Laureate Professor of Public Health, and graduated from the University of Arizona in 1998 with a master’s degree in public health.]
There’s a new initiative, Aegis Consortium, at Health Sciences, that will unite experts from all corners of the human experience to develop pandemic solutions. They will bring domain experts from around the world together to understand what we’ve learned from this pandemic, making us even more prepared for future health crisis.
When people say, ‘Oh, wasn’t it hard, intimidating?’ — the hard part was seeing people suffer. Certainly, everyone’s been touched by this. Losing loved ones. In the mental health aspect, just two years of absolute taxing, grinding stress. It’s acute stress, chronic underlying stress, and working remotely rather than being together contributes to it.
Working remotely has made us a little more efficient. I think we’re going to continue to do this in the future. It’s estimated a third of the workforce will continue to work remotely. I have mixed feelings about that. While I appreciate the efficiency, I think being together — sharing meals, having receptions, in-person meetings — there’s a cultural aspect to that that is important. So, I’m a little sad that things will never go back to the way they were.
Looking back, I take an incredible amount of pride in being part of a university that serves our community.
Looking Forward: Words of Wisdom for New Grads
Remain intellectually curious, and throughout your life, continue to challenge yourself and push yourself into new areas so you can grow emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Remain hungry.
Try to understand the meaning of life. To me, it includes a service component. Look for opportunities to help people who are less fortunate than you are. This spirit of paying it forward. To be good stewards of the gifts you’re given, especially your University of Arizona degree, because you earned it. And most of all, work hard, play hard and have fun!